1961 in England and the Avengers are on the television, the Jag E-Type is launched, Fleming’s Thunderball is on the book shelves, and John Le Carre introduces a spy of a very different sort in George Smiley. Real-time spy rings are in the news as large Soviet operations are uncovered in London and John Vassall, a member of the admiralty is tied to the Russians. This was the cold war after all and everyone was suspect, especially in such a hotbed of spying as London.

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Is it any wonder that the brief affair of John Profumo, Secretary of State for War in Macmillan’s government, blew up so rapidly? Having all the makings of a pulpy Bond novel with illicit liaisons between call girls, Russian attaches,British nobility, and an MI5 agent.Cliveden_banner_1

The parties at Clivenden house where notorious for bringing a disparate group of lotus eaters together. It was here that Profumo met Christine
Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies through mutual friend Stephen Ward, artist, socialite, and back channel MI5 operative.

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An affair between Profumo and Keeler ensued while Rice-Davies became tied with Lord Astor. Profumo’s affair may have been short-lived but once outed, the blowback was severe. While consorting with Profumo, Keeler was bedding Soviet Naval attache Yevgeny Ivanov. Not a good mix with a British official on one side of the bed and a Russian spy on the other. The timing couldn’t have been worse as the world teetered on the brink during the build-up to the Cuban missile crisis. The tabloid press whipped themselves into a frenzy, and fingers were angrily pointed across both sides of the parliamentary aisle. Profumo resigned, Ivanov returned to the Soviet Union, and Ward, feeling vilified, ended his life. Both women, thrust into the limelight, became instant celebrities.



By 1963 it was all over and this very English affair ushered in discussions of sex, class, and power while acting as a major touchstone for the swinging sixties. The Profumo affair still resonates today and has inspired books, films, plays, and luxury clothing.